Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program
Photo collage: temporary lane closure, road marking installation, cone with mounted warning light, and drum separated work zones.
Office of Operations 21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Text from 'Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center' PowerPoint Presentation

Slide 1

A Partnership

Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center

AHMCT is a project-oriented research center on the campus of UC Davis.

We make concept vehicles and equipment for the California Department of Transportation.

We feel that safety and efficiency are related.

A partnership between the University of California Davis and the California Department of Transportation


Photo: A worker’s memorial service.

Slide 2


Thanks to advances in computers, motors, power supplies, sensors, human interfaces, GPS, GIS, communications, databases, and materials, everything that lifts, shoves, and moves can now be dramatically improved.

We believe that over the next five years, irresistable technology and creative workers in the field will drive safety and efficiency innovations that will transform highway maintenance and construction operations.

Today's drink from the fire hose....

WZ Keep in Vehicle


  • Longitudinal Crack Sealer
  • Random Crack Sealer
  • Debris Vacuum Machine
  • Debris Removal Vehicle
  • Driver Assistance Snow Plow
  • Driver Assistance Snow Blower
  • Pavement Sign Painter
  • Rolling Wheel Deflectometer


  • Driver assistance paint striping
  • Mower on an arm
  • General purpose shoving blade
  • General purpose grappler

WZ Lane Makers


  • Cone Machine


  • Robotic traffic cones
  • Traffic mega-machine
  • Light-duty cone popper

WZ Worker Assistance


  • Omni-directional assist


  • Utility machine

WZ Hard Protection

  • Moveable k-rails
  • Crushable k-rails

WZ Warning

  • Intrusion alarms
  • Radio interrupt systems
  • Better backup alarms

WZ Night Work

  • Glare-free light for workzones

Test and Measurement

  • Rolling wheel deflectometer
  • Pebbles and motes
  • Flying robot
  • Marker and stripe reflectivity

Photo: Various research center employees from CA DOT and UC Davis

Slide 3

AHMCT on KGO Evening News

We develop and deploy highway technology that saves lives and reduces costs.

MPEG video of ABC News Report

Reporter: "The Cone Zone. Otherwise known as the danger zone. In the past 5 years, collisions in highway work zones have injured 16,000 drivers and killed 13 Caltrans employees. Almost every worker has had a close call."

On-screen action: close up of totaled car on the side of an interstate. An injured driver is carried on a gurney away from crash site.

Larry Stringer, Caltrans superintendent: "I've been rear-ended a couple of times. We've had a couple of close calls where cars were rented out."

Reporter: "The cone shooter aims to take some of the danger out of roadwork.

It's one of several machines and robots, invented by a team of UC Davis engineers, led by Professor Steve Velinsky."
Steve Velinsky, UC Davis professor: "The concept is really to get the workers into the confines of the vehicle, which is much safer. They won't be within arm's length of traffic going by at 75 miles per hour."

Reporter: "Watch. The modified pickup truck sets down cones going forward and picks them up going in reverse. The driver controls the entire operation using a few simple switches.

On-screen action: pickup truck moves forward on the side of a highway. A robotic arm attached to the side of the truck sets down cones on a roadway. Going in reverse, the pickup truck's robotic arm picks up the cones and places them into the back of the truck. The switchbox with switches for pick, drop, forward, and reverse is shown.

Steve Velinsky: "When it comes to picking up, the operator just needs to steer appropriately. He can pick up cones that are either standing or are already knocked over."

Reporter: "Normally someone has to sit back here and lean out of a moving truck to pick up each cone by hand. It's tiring and dangerous. But with the machine, everything is automated. This job becomes unnecessary. Caltrans likes the idea so much, it's investing millions in the Davis research because each year the state pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in worker injury claims."

On-screen action: reporter demonstrates leaning out of a moving pickup truck to pick up the cones.

Jeff Weiss, Caltrans spokesman: "We think the investment will really pay off. The machines that are coming out now are very smart. They can do a lot of work very quickly, and this is just the beginning."

Reporter: "Caltrans is already testing 4 other inventions:"

  • "This machine cleans and seals cracks with a robotic remote-controlled arm."
    On-screen action: a robotic arm attached to the back of a truck seals up cracks in the roadway.
  • "This vacuum cleaner attached to a sweeper truck easily sucks up small debris found along the highway."
    On-screen action: vacuum attachment on the front of a truck sucks up debris on the roadway.
  • "For bigger garbage, this vehicle's pinch bucket can grab tires, mufflers, or litter bags and drop them into the trash compactor."
    On-screen action: a pinch bucket attachment on a truck reaches out from the truck and picks up trash on the side of the roadway.
  • "Finally, this advanced snowplow, which will be tested in the Sierra this winter, uses radar to detect obstacles, which are hard to see in white-out conditions."
    On-screen action: snowplow plows several feet of snow off a roadway.

"In the future, the Davis team hopes to invent machines to speed up road repairs after earthquakes. Caltrans crew say they are not exactly worried about competition from robots."

Larry Stringer: "And we still have more than enough work to keep us busy for those that might be replaced by a piece of machinery."

Reporter: "So it's not man versus machine, it's man and machine. Working together to make life in the cone zone a little safer. Kristin Sze, ABC 7 News."

Slide 4

Cone Placement

The AHMCT Cone Shooter can automatically lay down cones at regular intervals and then pick them up again later.

A single operator can safely and quickly open and close busy lanes.

MPEG video of the Cone Shooter

On-screen action: AHMCT pickup truck with robotic arm sets down cones, blocking off the left lane on an interstate.

Narrative: The Cone Shooter lays down cones and then picks them up later. A single operator can safely and quickly open and close busy lanes. A typical lane configuration uses 80 traffic cones for each 1.5 miles of lane closure. Traffic cones come in various sizes up to 36 inches high. Caltrans uses a 28-inch high cone that weighs 10 pounds. Injury claims have been increasing rapidly. The Cone Shooter reduces both injuries and costs.

The Cone Shooter places cones in the forward travel direction and retrieves them in either forward or reverse at speeds up to 10 mph. Placement and retrieval can be handled on either the left or right side of the truck. Both upright and knocked-over cones can be picked up. By default, you can automatically space cones every 25, 50, or 100 feet while traveling at a speed of 10 mph. Spacing choices are readily modified.

On-screen action: AHMCT pickup truck with robotic arm picks up cones from the left lane on an interstate.

Narrative: By default, the cone shooter handles generic 28-inch highway cones. It can be readily modified to handle other cone sizes. By default, 80 cones can be stored in stacks. The carrying capacity can be readily modified. The Cone Shooter is controlled using simple switches. All operations are under the control of the driver, who remains in the truck at all times. The Cone Shooter fits onto existing traffic cone trucks.

On-screen action: close-up of the Cone Shooter mechanism as it loads cones onto a robotic arm and sets them down on the roadway.

Robotic arm is shown grabbing onto a cone, lifting it up, and placing it onto a short conveyer belt that moves the cone back into the truck.

Soon to be commercially available from Clean Earth Environmental Group --

Slide 5

Cone Placement

Fully automated cone placement requires materials handling, place-and-pick mechanisms, and systems integration.

On an interim basis, Caltrans is building trucks that feed cones to a seated operator, but do not place or pick.

Photo: A Caltrans truck

Industrial Automation Supply is building trucks that place and pick, but do not handle.

Photo of a CSR 3000

Slide 6

Cone Placement

In the near future, cones will place themselves and follow vehicles down the road.

Photo of robotic highway safety marker

In the meantime, Susan Babic's WS DOT crew goes out with (much) more than just cones: crash-barrels, signs, flashers, flares, and everything else you can think of.

Photos of a WS DOT Mouse Trap

Worldwide Safety believes that everyone should carry cones ... especially utility vehicles that mark lanes on city streets.

MPEG video of Cones that Pop

No narrative. On-screen action: pop-up cones developed by Worldwide Safety are loaded into a metal basket and then attached to the back bumper of a car. The driver feeds a remote control through the rear window and up to the driver's side of the car. The driver gets in the car and begins driving forward at a few miles per hour. The driver flips the switch on the remote, and a flattened cone shoots out of the bottom of the basket onto the road and expands upward to its full height.
A split screen shows a) regular traffic cones being knocked over by the open door of a slow moving truck and b) pop-up cones popping back into shape (they do not get knocked over) when an open door of a slow moving truck hits them. The weight at the bottom of the pop-up cones keeps them from toppling over and allows them to "bounce back" into shape.

Slide 7

Longitudinal Crack Sealing

The AHMCT Longitudinal Crack Sealing Machine automates the sealing of relatively continuous longitudinal cracks, such as those between a concrete lane and asphalt shoulders.

MPEG video of Longitudinal Crack Sealing Machine (LCSM)

Narrative: Pavement Preservation strategies can double the life of a roadway. However, Pavement Preservation requires that roadway cracks be sealed promptly. The Longitudinal Crack Sealing Machine seals continuous longitudinal cracks, such as those that occur between a concrete lane and asphalt shoulders.

On-screen action: The LCSM, a robotic arm attached to the front of a truck, is shown sealing the crack between a concrete lane and an asphalt shoulder.

Narrative: A display screen in the cab relays machine status information to the driver.

The LCSM driver controls the entire sealing process. Additional crew is required solely to load sealant blocks into a kettle. Both operator and the block loading crew remain in the truck body at all times.

A "shoe" pulls along a large puddle of sealant that overcomes the continuous change in crack size. The "shoe" is a four-inch wide sealer head that tools a flat transition between the lane and the shoulder. The sealer can work off either side of the vehicle. The driver can steer the shoe along the crack at up to 5 miles per hour, with speed depending on the ability to supply sealant.

The LCSM is a joint effort of AHMCT, the Caltrans Division of Research and Innovation, and the Caltrans Equipment Service Center.

Currently being enhanced per results of field trials.

Caltrans Equipment Shop will build for deployment.

Slide 8

Random Crack Sealing

The AHMCT Random Crack Sealer transforms pavement sealing into a simple computer point and click process.

MPEG video of Random Crack Sealing Machine

On-screen action: The crack-sealing arm is shown as an attachment to the back of a truck. The arm is positioned over the crack and deposits sealant along the length of the crack. A blinking orange light on top of the arm indicates that sealing is in process.

Narrative: Crack filling and sealing is necessary to ensure roadway structural integrity and extend the time between major rehabilitation. The Random Crack Sealing Machine transforms the strenuous and dangerous task of pavement sealing into a simple computer point-and-click process. A video camera is mounted on an overhead boom at the rear of the truck. As you drive along, you watch the pavement on a display in the cab. When you see a crack you want to seal, you stop the truck, and, using the display, click on the crack. Once you have chosen a crack to seal, an on-board computer uses a vision-recognition system to recognize and trace the crack on the screen. It then plans and displays an optimal sealing path. Once you have finished choosing cracks, you click on the OK button, and a long-reach, robot arm with a sealing head on the end then traverses and seals the crack at 3 feet per second. When you have sealed all cracks on a particular patch of pavement, you then retract the arm and drive on, looking for more cracks. The arm can reach across a full lane and has a 12 foot by 13 foot workspace. The control system can position the sealant head anywhere in the workspace to within a couple of millimeters.

Photo: Bird's eye view of a crack

Currently being road tested.

Slide 9

Debris Vacuum

Using a joystick control from within a cab, you can vacuum behind guard rails, down into depressions, and under bushes.

MPEG video of Debris Vacuum System AHMCT Prototype—Demo for Caltrans, August 2002

On-screen action: an operator displays the maneuverability of the mechanical arm of the Debris Vacuum System.

On-screen action: a still shot of the Debris Vacuum System Clean Earth Commercial Vehicle, with vacuum arm positioned at the front of the vehicle and debris catcher at the back.

Narrative: to help make litter removal safer and more efficient, AHMCT has produced a litter removal system. The Debris Vacuum System is designed to be an add-on feature for existing sewer and ditch cleaning trucks. Using a joystick control from within a cab, an operator can quickly vacuum behind guard rails, down into depressions, and under bushes.

On-screen action: the debris vacuum arm of the truck is shown vacuuming trash under a suspended roadway. The long arm of the vacuum can be maneuvered to vacuum trash at the sides or in front of the truck. The debris "catcher" unloads trash and debris similar to how a dump truck deposits its load (with the back portion of the truck lifting up at an angle, tipping its contents out of the back of the truck). The Debris Vacuum System is shown vacuuming trash out from under landscaping bushes lining a highway, out from under guard rails, and between guard rails that run along either side of an interstate.

Commercially available from Clean Earth Environmental Group

Slide 10

Debris Removal

The Debris Removal Vehicle can pick up several tires or up to 8 litter bags at one time.

Now being fitted with a new arm.

MPEG video of Debris Removal Vehicle

On-screen action: the robotic arm on an AHMCT truck reaches out and captures roadside trash in a rounded cage that opens like a clamshell. The arm lifts the captured trash and drops it into a trash compactor in the back of the truck.

Narrative: Collecting litter bags, tire carcasses, and animal remains from highways can be tedious, expensive, and dangerous. Often, one or more workers must drive along the roadside and periodically stop to get out to throw bags or debris from the roadside into a truck. By comparison, the Debris Collection Vehicle requires only a driver who remains safely inside the cab at all times. The Debris Collection Vehicle can pick up litter bags and large debris from either side of a standard 10-cubic yard compacting truck. The Debris Collection Vehicle can reach 4 feet above or below the road service. First, you deploy the clamshell to a preset location by pushing a button and then fine-tune the location with a joystick. Next, you close the clamshell to grab several tires or up to eight bags of trash. You push another button to automatically dump the load into a trash compactor. The pinch will release its contents into the trash compactor and return to a position ready for traveling or further use.

On-screen action: the clamshell moves over a pile of trash, captures it, and lifts and deposits the trash into the compactor in the back of the truck.

Slide 11

RoadView Snowplow

Features location sensors, position prediction, obstacle detection, and advanced interface. Popular with drivers.

Soon: GPS based location system for non-mountain use.

MPEG video of RoadView Snowplow

On-screen action: A snowplow deploys a plow arm from the side of the truck, enabling the truck to plow snow that is double the width of the snowplow (thus plowing snow two lanes at a time instead of one).

Narrative: Keeping the highways open in winter. I-80 over Donner Pass is a harsh place in winter—35 feet of wet snow that comes in intense storms that can totally obscure a driver's vision. To help keep Donner Pass open, for the past four years Caltrans has been using several RoadView Snowplows.

On-screen action: view from the inside of the truck. The driver's vision is obscured by heavy snowfall. A display monitor is positioned at the right of the driver.

Narrative: The RoadView Snowplow warns drivers of collisions, shows the current lane position, predicts the future lane position, and indicates upcoming roadway curvature.

On-screen action: A display in the truck shows the current lane position of the truck and an upcoming obstacle in the road.

Narrative: The RoadView Snowplow warns drivers of collisions, shows the current lane positions, predicts the future lane position, and indicates upcoming roadway curvature. A main computer processes information collected by sensing devices. A display presents information to the driver in an intuitive format. Support and aid for RoadView were provided by the California and Arizona Departments of Transportation, the California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH), and the Western Transportation Institute (WTI). AHMCT and PATH are also developing a fully automated rotary snowplow, which includes automated steering, brake, and throttle as well as an obstacle detection system.

RoadView has been in use for four years on Donner Pass.

Currently three are in use.

Slide 12

Rotary Snow Blower

A driver assistance, rotary snow blower is under development.

Photos: Rotary Snow Blowers in action.

It will have automated steering, obstacle detection, and collision warning systems. It will use a GPS/GIS system for driver information.

We hope soon to use the blower to open passes.

Slide 13

In development — Worker Assistance Tools

AHMCT is now working on a omni-directional, worker assistance device for lifting and handling of materials in a work zone.

Also under consideration are systems for installing guard rails and moving litter and brush on uneven terrain.

Photos of robotic devices.

Illustration showing a robotic device in its charged state with rods expanded (the polymer expands). Illustration showing a robotic device in its uncharged state with rods at rest (the polymer contracts).

Sooner-than-you-think: molecular muscles and exoskeletons.

Slide 14

Now available — Worker Assistance Tools

Tools adapted from landscaping are already available. For example, Toro has a small, walk-behind-or-ride-on worker assistance machine.

Basically, it is a mobile delivery system for 3000 psi of hydraulic pressure.

Photos of Toro, as demonstrated at WS DOT's Pacific Northwest Transportation Technology Expo.

Toro, as demonstrated at WS DOT's Pacific Northwest Transportation Technology Expo.

About 16% of all injuries are due to lifting. Half of all maintenance injuries involve landscaping.

Slide 15

In development — Test and Measurement

Pavement Inspection

Currently, falling weight deflectometers are used to evaluate the structural integrity of pavements.
Using materials inspection technology, AHMCT is now developing plans for a simple, robust, inexpensive Rolling Wheel Deflectometer.

Rolling Wheel Deflectometer

Drawing of a Rolling Wheel Deflectometer mounted inside a truck.

Slide 16

In Development—Test and Measurement

Bridge Inspection

Here are three very different approaches to bridge inspection:

  1. Embedding sensors—Smart Pebbles will be field tested this year.
  2. Fly-by inspections—An Aerial Robot will be tried next year.
  3. Sensors thrown onto a surface—Smart Motes are being fast-tracked because of their military applications.

Illustration of Smart Pebbles (SRI Caltrans)

Illustration of Aerial Robot (Moller and AHMCT)

Illustration of Motes (UC Berkeley and DARPA)

For more information about Caltrans Research —

Slide 17

Ideas—Test and Measurement

Pavement Marker and Striping Reflectivity

Many firms make instruments to measure the retro-reflectivity of stripes.

None of the mobile systems work very well. The problems are platform jiggle, speed, and distance from pavement.

We think the solution will come from firms that test high-speed webs for manufacturers.

Photos of various retro-reflectivity instruments.

The Caltrans "Roll-Off" approach involves specifications for palletization of equipment.

Slide 18

Ideas — Other

WZ Hard Protection

  • Moveable k-rails
  • Crushable k-rails

WZ Lane Makers

  • Traffic mega-machine for cones, crash-barrels, signs, flashers, flares, and soft K-rails

WZ Warning

  • Intrusion alarms
  • Radio interrupt systems
  • Better backup alarms

WZ Keep in Vehicle

  • Pavement sign painter
  • Driver assistance paint striping
  • Mower on an arm
  • Shoving blade for existing vehicles
  • Grappler for existing vehicles

WZ Night Work

  • Bright, glare-free light for workzones

The time has come for mechatronics.

Lots of ideas, from field, researchers, and vendors.

Many more ideas to come.

What's your idea?

The WS DOT Mouse Trap program is a rich source of ideas generated by people in the field.

Photos of a TruckKat and a WS DOT "Mouse Trap."

Slide 19

About AHMCT: Technology

New Golden Age of Mechanical Engineering

Motors and power supplies—compact and precise.

Sensors—ultrasonic, laser, wideband, magnetic. Motes.

Computers—design and engineering.

Computers—field interfaces and controllers.

Interfaces—intuitive, no explicit programming.

GPS and GIS—useful location accuracy and databases.

Communications—alter work patterns.

Databases—powerful, easy to use.

Materials—new materials mean new possibilities.

A series of three photos depicting technology integration, automated systems, and materials handling.

Slide 20

About AHMCT: Relationships

Annual Workshop—project ideas

Steering Communication—policies and priorities

Research and Innovation—coordinate activities, oversight

AHMCT—concept vehicles and equipment

Equipment Shop—hardened vehicles, deployment

Companies—commercial vehicles, technical support

Maintenance and Construction—needs, problems, trials, reality

Many hundreds of contacts per year involving many hundreds of people.

Photo of Workshop 2002 attendees.

Slide 21

They make it look easy . . .

In June 2002, two students presented, as their Masters degree project, a machine to insert magnets into a roadway.

MPEG video of Student Project

No narrative. On-screen action: students demonstrate their machine: the mechanism is attached in tow to an SUV. A student at the control panel of the mechanism deploys a drill bit that drills a hole in the roadway surface. The student retracts the drill and deploys a mechanical arm that first deposits an epoxy into the hole, then a large cylindrical magnet, and then more epoxy.

Slide 22

Please Visit Our Web Sites

Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center

California Department of Transportation Division of Research and Innovation

Office of Operations